SANTA FE – Democratic candidate Maggie Toulouse Oliver has a hefty lead over Republican rival Nora Espinoza in the race for secretary of state, a Journal Poll found.
Toulouse Oliver, the Bernalillo County Clerk, led Espinoza, a lawmaker from Roswell, by 45 percent to 31 percent in a poll of 501 likely voters.
Twenty-four percent of those polled said they had not decided whom to vote for in the Nov. 8 general election. One percent declined to say.
The candidates are vying to fill the remaining two years of the term of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who resigned last year and pleaded guilty to misusing her campaign funds, including for gambling expenses at casinos.
Duran, who left in the middle of her second term, was the first Republican elected secretary of state in 80 years when voters put her in office in 2010.
Research & Polling Inc. conducted the poll last week.
“This has been an office that typically has gone to Democrats. … This race is following your typical Democratic-Republican curve in a low-profile race,” he said.
Espinoza has been a member of the state House of Representatives from District 59, representing Chaves and Lincoln counties, for the past decade.
Her support is strongest on New Mexico’s east side, where 59 percent of poll respondents said they would vote for her, in contrast to 13 percent for Toulouse Oliver.
“Espinoza has a tremendous lead in eastern New Mexico,” Sanderoff said.
Toulouse Oliver has been the clerk in Bernalillo County – the state’s most populous – since 2007, when she was appointed to fill a vacancy. She was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, and has a strong base of support in the Albuquerque area, according to the poll: 52 percent, as opposed to 27 percent for Espinoza.
Her support is even more significant in the Democratic stronghold of north-central New Mexico, where she polled at 57 percent to Espinoza’s 19 percent.
The secretary of state is New Mexico’s chief elections officer, overseeing a system in which the 33 county clerks run elections as well as regulating ethics and campaign finance reporting.
The candidates are at odds on many issues, with Espinoza emphasizing fighting voter fraud and favoring a requirement for photo voter identification. Toulouse Oliver opposes photo voter ID and says voting should be made easier and more accessible, including allowing voters to register the same day they vote, which Espinoza opposes.
The Journal Poll found that Democratic and Republican voters are, for the most part, sticking to party lines, with Toulouse Oliver getting only 11 percent of Republicans and Espinoza drawing only 10 percent of Democrats.
Espinoza was favored by 66 percent of Republicans who were polled, while 23 percent remained undecided. Toulouse Oliver drew 71 percent of Democrats, with 19 percent undecided.
And Toulouse Oliver had a 2-to-1 lead over Espinoza among voters who aren’t affiliated with either major party – probably based on her name recognition, according to Sanderoff.
This is the second time the Democratic nominee has run for the office; she lost to Duran in 2014.
The poll also showed Toulouse Oliver with 52 percent of Hispanic voters – who tend to register and vote Democratic – and Espinoza, who is Hispanic, with 22 percent of Hispanic voters.
Their polling with Anglo voters was about even, with the Democratic nominee at 38 percent and the Republican at 39 percent, according to the poll.
With New Mexico’s voter registration about 47 percent Democratic and 31 percent Republican, Republicans must pick up crossover Democratic voters to win low-profile statewide races.
Duran, who had been a state senator and the Otero County clerk, swept a Democratic incumbent out of the Secretary of State’s Office in 2010 whose tenure had been marred by complaints of misconduct.
Of the poll respondents who identified themselves as conservative, Espinoza had 54 percent and Toulouse Oliver 24 percent. Among self-described moderates, Toulouse Oliver had 49 percent and Espinoza 24 percent. Of the self-described liberals, Toulouse Oliver had 80 percent and Espinoza 5 percent.
Sanderoff said the fact that 24 percent of poll respondents were still undecided is not surprising.
“A lot of people haven’t even focused on this race yet,” he said.
The Journal Poll was conducted Sept. 27 through Sept. 29. It’s based on a scientific, statewide sample of 501 voters who said they plan to vote this year, and who either cast ballots in the 2012 or 2014 general elections, or who have just registered to vote.
The full voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone. Cellphone numbers accounted for 52 percent and landlines 48 percent.